Zero Dark Thirty was one of the best films of 2013 (going by Australian release dates), but its relentlessly American point-of-view is arguably a failing. I don’t think that Bigelow’s film unambiguously views Bin Laden’s murder as a success, but the controversy/conversation that developed regarding the film as “pro-torture” was predicated on that very assumption.
Anton Corbijn’s A Most Wanted Man takes an entirely different approach, tackling the subject of terrorism with humanism. The suspected terrorists in this film – adapted from a John Le Carré novel – don’t present the same threat level as Bin Laden, but they’re treated with respect and empathy. So it is with all the characters of this film, from Philip Seymour Hoffman’s worn-out intelligence officer to Rachel McAdams’ kind-hearted lawyer.
Corbijn tells his tale with trademark restraint, stepping through the details of an intricate – but never confusing – narrative with the kind of attention to detail that allows a spy “thriller” to ramp up tension without guns or bombs… but rather the mere anticipation of a signature. I was particularly impressed by how he mirrored the complex conflicts of the plot with his compositions, regularly framing his characters in a labyrinthine geometry of inter-crossing lines and grids.